Friday, 12 September 2014

In the footsteps of aliens: Visit a crop circle

by Le Petit Poulailler/CC BY NC-ND-2.0
It started down the pub. Over a couple of beers this summer, a friend confessed to me her fascination with the ‘other’ side of life. She said she liked ghost-hunting evenings, ouija boards, visiting crop circles… Crop circles?

I thought they were all in the past. Something that had appeared all over the British countryside in the late 70s and 80s, were thought to be created by creatures from other planets, got lots of media attention, were found to be a hoax and fizzled out. But no, she told me, they still cropped up (!) here and there every summer.

Ooh, I felt a day trip coming on. The kids would love it: Aliens, mystery, intrigue! 
But how did we actually find one? Turns out being a crop circle hunter is a bit like being a storm chaser – but without the danger, or quite the urgency. What I needed to do, my friend told me, was watch the website of the Crop Circle Access Centre (who knew?!) and when they reported one that was in striking distance, we were to jump in the car and go! (Just so long as permission had been given to access it – farmers don’t always want people tramping through their fields.)

So our next free Saturday in August, I had a look. BULL'S EYE! One had been sighted in Wiltshire (a doable 1 ¼ hour journey for us). Oh ... but that was eight days ago. Would it still be there? Would it be past its best?

I decided to phone the Access Centre and check. An incredibly friendly woman told me that, yes, it was still there, and intact. “When you get close, if you can’t find it, give me another call and I’ll talk you in live", she said. Wow. What a service. I wondered if the centre was staffed by aliens. Aliens who were really very keen for us to go and admire their works of art.
by Cobalt123/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (adapted)
Before we set off, I got the kids psyched up. We looked at photos of all kinds of mind-blowingly intricate crop circles on the internet, and an aerial shot of the one we were visiting which was relatively simple: circles within triangles within circles. Still exciting for us newbies. We learnt a bit about the different theories behind them and the experiments that have been done to try and recreate them. We also found out that a cereologist is someone who studies crop circles – not the person who invented Coco Pops and Shredded Wheat – and that some of them still believe that some crop circles could only have been created by super-intelligent beings from elsewhere.

As we drove along the country lanes looking for the exact spot, we could see a combine harvester ploughing ferociously through the fields. Oh no! Were we a day too late? Had the wheat been cut? Was the circle destroyed?

“There!” shouted my son, suddenly, my husband braking just a little too violently. Sure enough, we could make out a distinct circular shape in the field with what appeared to be heads in it. 
Within seconds we were striding towards it. What I hadn’t anticipated is just how wonderful it is on a sunny day to walk through a sea of thigh-high wheat (or elbow-high on my daughter). 
It feels like another world. The gold of the field, the blue of the sky, the glow of the sunshine, the occasional red of a poppy. “I feel like I’m in an old-fashioned film,” said my daughter. I'd gone a bit Laura Ingalls myself. 
After five minutes, we arrived. It was the most basic of crop circles (and not, we realized, the one we’d planned to visit). Just a circular track round the outside with a circular space in the middle. But perfectly made. We began by walking the circumference. When we reached the centre, there were several other people there already and a quiet (ish), respectful, thoughtful atmosphere. 
We sat down. It did feel like a special place. A place to stop, think, wonder, breathe the air that aliens may have breathed.

I was still curious about the one we'd intended to find though. “Do you know if there’s another crop circle near here?” I asked a couple. The man smiled the biggest, sunniest, smiliest smile, as if we were part of a secret club. “Yes, there’s one half a mile down the road,” he said, and gave us precise and enthusiastic directions. Was he also an alien parading as a human?

This one was trickier to find and we set off through the field in the wrong direction twice before bumping into another family who had come all the way from Cambridge for a few days just to see crop circles! They told us where it was.Yep, this was the one we’d set out to see, much smaller than the other one, but more detailed.
As we strolled back towards the car, pondering, I asked my children their verdict on the aliens v. humans debate.

“Well, they’re not so amazing that I think aliens made them,” said my 8-year-old daughter, “But I don’t know how humans would do it.”

“Even if they are done by humans,” said my 15-year-old son, “The idea of people getting up in the night, coming here secretly, making them in the dark, in a hurry, without any mistakes, that’s still pretty cool.”

Crop circles appear April to August, though late July/August is the peak time. They are most commonly found in Wiltshire but they can occur anywhere. Visit the Crop Circle Access Centre's website here.

If you like this, you might like Go and watch The Bore.

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